UK food and drink exports with non-EU countries have soared above pre-pandemic levels for the first time, according to new research by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

The research provides a snapshot of UK trade in the first quarter (Q1) of 2022.

Export sales reached £5.3 billion in Q1, a rise of nearly 31% according to the report. This follows a sharp drop in sales in Q1 2021 due to stockpiling and the need of businesses to adapt to new trade requirements to the EU, the FDF said.

Exports to non-EU markets reached a record of £2.3 billion, the highest value recorded in Q1, and exports to major markets including the US, Australia, Canada, Japan and the UAE have exceeded pre-pandemic levels - as mentioned.

All but one of the UK's top-10 exported products, pork (down 4.3%), saw growth since 2021.

Overall, the FDF found food and drink imports to be 13% higher than in 2019 and 32.8% higher than 2021. However, this large rise it said, is due to changes in the recording of official UK import data from January 1, 2021.

The Netherlands remains the largest supplier and the US remains the largest non-EU supplier, with inputs up 13% in the past year to £350 million.

Market focus: Canada is a key source of ingredients used by UK manufacturers as imports rose 5%. Exports to the country also saw particularly strong growth, up 26% on pre-pandemic levels. Exports to India are up more than 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels, and they remain a large import partner - particularly for agricultural goods - accounting for £172.5 million.

This trade is expected to display even more growth with the impeding trade deals with Australia and New Zealand to come into force, the FDF said.

Nicola Thomas, Food and Drink Exporters Association director, commented:

“Such strong growth highlights how with widespread economic and political instability around the world, a renewed focus on exporting is a crucial risk-mitigation strategy for UK Food and Drink companies in 2022.

“Having a sales portfolio spanning multiple global markets not only makes a business potentially less vulnerable to changes in the UK economy, but any losses caused by a crisis or stagnation in one country or region also stand a much better chance of being balanced out by a presence in others.”